The year 2022 has been surprisingly difficult. As the first year that feels like a true emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic, I expected 2022 to feel like a sigh of relief, a breath of fresh air, long-awaited freedom from the pain characteristic of the last two years. Instead, 2022 was one of the most difficult years of my life.
I have experienced things this year that were difficult for me to come to terms with. I have had to cope, not just with loss, but also adulthood. This was my first year out of college, and I am just beginning to understand the phase of my life I am entering — one that will have me become more and more enmeshed with the harsh reality of our society: that I need to work for what I want — whether that be financial freedom, a career, a home, a family, mental stability, love, adventure, excitement — and that if I don’t, none of it will simply fall into my lap. To be quite honest, it’s scary and overwhelming. I wonder, as those of you who are older than I am read this, if you can remember the feeling of your whole life being ahead of you, completely unknown, and the sometimes-crushing weight of the sole responsibility for how it unfolds.
As I work on this issue and look back on 2022 not from my own personal perspective, but from the perspective of the LGBTQ community as a whole, that overwhelming fear becomes even more potent. Because 2022 was a difficult year not only for me, but for the nation. Reproductive rights that people have enjoyed for almost fifty years were stolen from us. A full-scale attack was launched on the LGBTQ community, especially our youth — mentions of us are banned from classroom discussions, and trans students are being attacked with legislation left and right. At least 34 trans people were violently killed this year, two of whom were among the five victims of a mass shooting targeting our community.
I’m scared not only for my own personal future, but for the future of the society my personal future depends on. How am I supposed to do this? How am I supposed to create a happy and stable and safe life for myself and the people I love when so many things are wrong?
As I was ruminating on this question and the state of our world for the hour-and-a-half I was standing in line to vote this week, I decided to listen to an episode of The Happiness Lab — a podcast to which, if you want advice for living a happier life backed by science, I strongly suggest you listen — called “You Only Live Once … So Commit.” The episode was all about the satisfaction and long-lasting contentment you get from choosing commitment and the choice paralysis that comes from keeping your options open. And as I thought of every single issue plaguing the world, and of the grind at deciding how my own life is going to go, I realized that commitment was the answer. I don’t have to combat every ill facing the world (even though the internet tries to convince me otherwise). I don’t have to solve every problem. I don’t have to get every single aspect of my life in order. I have to choose what really matters to me and commit myself to that wholeheartedly.
None of us can be everywhere doing everything that needs to be done at once, and I don’t think trying to do so is conducive to either productivity or personal joy. What we each need to do is look inward, to find what truly matters to us. Maybe that’s feminism and reproductive justice, maybe that’s racial equality through housing or police reform, maybe that’s protecting trans people, maybe that’s eradicating HIV. Even though it’s easy to recognize the importance of all of these and other issues, it’s crucial that we each commit ourselves to one, to avoid choice paralysis by, well, choosing. If we all dedicate ourselves, our time, and our money to a single cause for the long haul (to the best of our ability, of course) instead of spreading ourselves and our resources thin, then I believe that not only will things begin to change, but we will also experience more fulfillment and less existential angst.
Just like creating a good life, creating a good world requires work. But when we give ourselves over to the work, train our focus on the one thing we know aligns with our values and ignore all the other places our attention could go, I believe goodness will emerge. As I move into 2023, my New Year’s resolution will be to turn inward, focus, and commit to better. I hope our country follows suit.